I used to spend a lot of time not thinking about things. It was the first thing you learned when you joined the Agency. Don ’t think about it. Don’t question it. Accept the vagueness, and be happy that nobody ever told you the truth. The unknown hurt, but the truth was much worse. The truth was what would get you, would make you sloppy, make you disappear.
That was what we always called it. “Disappearing”. Like Goldilocks was a magician, and we were all the rabbits that she pulled in and out of the hat. In the beginning, I thought it meant that people ran away. Maybe they escaped and found a better life. Disappearing was like freedom to me, and I used to be jealous of them. It wasn’t until later that I knew better, but by then I wasn’t thinking about it. It was better that way.
Now, though, I think about a lot of things that I didn ’t used to. I think it’s probably time that I think about all the stuff that I thought it was so important to forget.
I want them to be remembered. The good, the bad, and the ones that fell in between. I want them to have legacies, even if all that means is that their names get scribbled in the notes of this story. After all, they were a part of my world at one point. Whatever happened to make them disappear, they still existed. Even if nobody else outside of our group knew it, I did, and that means they mattered. They were real, and they deserve to be thought of.
Even if it hurts, I want to write their names down, and count them. All the people that I knew that disappeared. All the people that faded, but left a print across my memories. This is for them as much as it is for Klein, the man who only ever wanted his story to be told. But I think that ’s all any of us ever wanted, in the end.
For someone to live to tell our story.
He pulled the blanket up and wrapped it around the frail shoulders that rose and fell with evened breathing. Red hair curled against the top of the pillow, draping across his forehead in ringlets that were damp with sweat. The grimace on his face had subsided, the terror in his mind soothed and put to rest. His eyes had finally fluttered closed, the nightmares driven away by the same bright stories that Saeyoung always told him. Every night Saeran would wake up screaming, and every night Saeyoung would lull him back to sleep with tales of the things that they could do when they grew up. Places they could go, the lives that they could lead. He built a future with his words, castles of hope and possibility, promises to make it worth living through the darkness. Promises that Saeran would have to keep without him, now.
He could feel tears burning in the back of his eyes and he swiped his arm across them, keeping them shut and blocking out the image of his sleeping brother. He would never get to see him smile, but just knowing that he would have the chance to start was enough. It would have to be.
He took a deep breath, holding it in his chest as he tiptoed away from the bedside. He slid the closet door open and pulled out the bag that he had prepared, grabbing his jacket and throwing it over his pajamas. He didn’t want to risk putting on anything else, worried that the sound would wake his brother, or the wasted time would shorten his window for escape. Not that he needed to rush. Now that Saeran had fallen back to sleep, he would be out until mother came to wake them, and she had been gone all night again, so it was unlikely that she would be awake before the afternoon. Saeyoung could stay a little longer, if he wanted. He could crawl back in bed and hold Saeran’s hand for just a little while. He could be a twin for another hour.
No. A minute, an hour, a day. It didn’t matter how long he tried to put it off. He had made his decision, and now he had to live with it.
He shouldered the bag and left the room, every nerve in his body screaming at him to turn around and go back. He felt like someone had filled him with static energy, and that every time he moved flickering shocks rippled over his skin. It made him nervous and jittery, his fingers shaking as he tied the laces to his shoes. When he was ready, as dressed as he was going to be, as packed as he was able, he stood in front of the door, staring at the handle.
It was goodbye without words. Saeran would wake up and find him gone, and he would never get an answer for where he went. But soon someone would come to save him, to take him away from this hellhole and give him the life that he deserved. Saeyoung didn’t need to be a part of it. Saeran would get to be happy, probably happier than they could have been together. His twin would never have to question why they were different again, because he would get to be his own person. That was enough. That was all that Saeyoung wanted.
He wrapped his fingers around the handle and twisted, pulling the door open and stepping outside.
It was colder than he thought it would be, and he shivered as he rushed down the walkway covered in overgrown bushes. They loomed over him, the shadows darkened by the lightless night, everything bathed in black and blue. The streetlights closest to their house had burned out ages ago, so as he stood at the edge of the curb it was like standing in a sea of darkness. There were lights on the shores, but they felt far away from him. Lights meant for other people, but not for him. He was building a raft to float with the inky midnight, carrying the burdens of a broken home so that his brother wouldn’t need to any longer.
He threw his shoulders back, steeling his nerves even as his knees shook. He walked down the street, away from his home, away from everything that he had ever known, away from the one person that he cared about. Well, the one person he had cared about until he had met Rika and V. They had saved them, in the best way that they could. They would get out of the grip of their mother, away from the reach of their father. It was freedom, even if it wasn’t pretty. Life never was, though. Otherwise he wouldn’t have to make this kind of choice.
He sighed and pushed his introspective thoughts away, not wanting to think about the gravity of the situation anymore. It was done, he was already on his way. No use dwelling on things that he couldn’t change.
It took him an hour to get to the meeting place, and it looked deserted, the spire of the church sticking straight up into the sky like a spear. In the daylight it was welcoming, but tonight it seemed ominous. Everything tonight seemed ominous. He knew was being dramatic again to think such things, which would have made Saeran laugh, and that made a pang of pain lance its way through his chest. Saeran loved to laugh at Saeyoung’s outlandish, bolder emotions. That was always why he made them bigger.
Anything for a smile.
He stood outside the doors, marveling at the stars. He wondered if there were other people that were looking at them with him, right now. Standing in different places across the globe, but staring at the same points. He was fourteen, and he was selling his future so that Saeran could have one instead. Were there people out there that were supposed to have been part of his life? Friends? Family? Was there anybody besides Saeran that would miss him?
“You’re in pajamas.”
Saeyoung jumped, his heart thudding in his chest as he looked in the direction that the voice had come from. It was friendly, though, and he recognized the cadence to V’s speech before he had fully materialized from the shadows. He smiled when he did, his hands tucked in his pockets as his mint hair hung over one of his eyes. He looked like the patron saint of benevolence, come to bestow soft light to the broken night. Saeyoung wanted to run and hug him, but he tightened his grip on the strap of his bag instead.
“Aren’t you cold?” V smirked, shaking his head.
“No.” Saeyoung sounded petulant, even to himself, and he tried to shake the fear and self pity out of his mind. He didn’t want V to know that he was struggling. He wanted V to be proud of him. He wanted V to know that he was grateful. He tipped his glasses higher up on his face, stretching his lips in a grin that he didn’t feel. “I’m fine, I can get dressed later.”
V chuckled, shaking his head. “You always know how to smile at the strangest moments.”
“Is Rika coming?”
The smile faded from V’s lips, but only for a second. “No, sorry. She wasn’t able to make it, but she told me to tell you that she loves you.”
“Oh.” He didn’t have much else to say, but the idea that Rika loved him made him fill with pride. She was a good person. If she could care for him, even knowing everything about him, even knowing what he was about to do, then maybe he wasn’t a hopeless case after all.
V sighed, looking at the sky. “They should be here any minute.”
“When will you get Saeran?”
“You know I can’t tell you that.” V didn’t look at him as he spoke, his gaze millions of miles away in the cosmos.
Saeyoung wanted to argue, but he couldn’t find the words, so he shut his mouth and stared at the ground. They remained that way, couched in silence and starlight, unmoving as the breeze seeped through his thin pajamas and ate away at his bones. There were a lot of things that he still wanted to ask, questions that burned like candles behind his eyes, filling them with tears that wouldn’t fall. He had asked them all before, but instead of answers all he had been given were looks of pity, looks of despair. He couldn’t bring himself to voice them again. He couldn’t bring himself to make V look sadder than he already did.
They didn’t hear any footsteps, but somehow both Saeyoung and V knew when the men had arrived. They strolled out of the shadows wearing suits that looked like they belonged on Bond villains, pressed and preened to a fine, crisp finish. They were both tall, both white, both stone-faced and cold. Colder than the wind.
They nodded greeting to V, and V returned the gesture. Saeyoung could tell that they had met before, and he wondered where V could have run into such people. They were forbidding, the cruel fizz of anger boiling just beneath their stares a looming warning that they intended no friendship to anyone or any thing. These were not benevolent men here to take Saeyoung to a better world. He had been warned as much, but thinking of it as an abstract and experiencing it in person were two very different things. Reality settled over his shoulders like a shawl of concrete, and he trembled beneath it.
“Jesus, look at him. He’s like a fucking lamb.” The man spat on the ground, glaring and shaking his head.
The second man grinned, leaning forward as he strolled up to stand in front of Saeyoung. “Now, Agent Cadence, you know better than to question our benevolent benefactor.” He reached out, taking Saeyoung’s chin between his fingers. “After all, this might be some bigwig’s new pet that we’ve been sent to fetch.”
Saeyoung jerked his head away, narrowing his eyes. “Maybe your boss just needs someone who isn’t so big and dumb.” The man he had called Cadence started to laugh, and the one in front of Saeyoung swung his arm, backhanding Saeyoung across the face with enough force to send him toppling to the ground. Bright spots of color flashed in front of his eyes as he inhaled dust and dirt, his palms scraping against the broken concrete. He tasted something coppery against the tip of his tongue, filling the front of his mouth.
“Shit, Clover, you had better hope you’re wrong about the pet thing. You damaged his lil’ bitty lip.”
Saeyoung got to his feet, his legs shaking enough to make his cheeks burn in shame. He wiped some of the blood away from his mouth, spitting the excess onto the ground in a frothy, pink glob. He turned to face the men, holding his chin high. He felt more tears burning in his eyes, but he held them in, refusing to so much as blink so that the movement wouldn’t let them escape. He would not cry because of them.
So this was who he had signed up to work with? This was his future? Two half-wits who liked to hit people in response to a little sarcasm. Was the whole world made of violence?
The one called Clover reached over, his hand moving so fast that Saeyoung barely had time to pull away, but he wasn’t fast enough to avoid his grip entirely. Clover grabbed his bag, wrenching it off his shoulder so that the strap ripped and Saeyoung yelped in pain when his arm tilted in the wrong direction. The agent held it up, shaking it, before tossing it to Cadence. “Get rid of it.”
V stepped into the agent’s path, nodding politely. “No, I can take it.”
Cadence stared at him for a long, agonizing second before shrugging and handing the bag over, walking around V to come stand next to Clover. “You ready?”
He wasn’t talking to Saeyoung.
“Yeah, let’s get this over with and get the fuck out of here.”
Saeyoung wasn’t ready.
He darted forward, heading towards V. He didn’t know what he was going to do when he got there, but he had the insuppressible need to try. V was familiar, V was safe. V would protect him, V would find another way. He didn’t want this. He didn’t want to go with these men who sneered and knocked him around. He didn’t want to meet their boss and find out if he was someone’s pet. He didn’t want to walk away from the church, from the two friends that he had made, from his brother. This was wrong. This had been a mistake. Saeran needed him.
A rough hand wrapped around the edge of his collar, yanking him backwards and into Clover’s arms. The soft cloth was pulled taught around his neck, and it dug into the skin there, cutting off his air and making his vision swim with splotches of green panic. He tried to squirm away, but it was no use. They dragged him back the way they had come, shoving him forward through the alley, his feet tripping on the ground so that he alternated between falling and stumbling. There was a pitch-black car waiting by the curb, the chariot that would carry him to his fate, drawn by horses of steel and carbon emissions.
They reached the car and threw the door open, and Saeyoung tried to run again, darting to the left and around the agent. Clover nabbed him once more, this time cuffing him upside the head for his efforts and wrapping his other arm around his stomach. His breath hitched as he tried to breathe, tried to scream, but his swollen lips got in his way and all that came out was a strangled cry. He reached his hand out, grasping the air and trying to close the distance between himself and V, who had followed them. He was clutching Saeyoung’s bag to his chest, his eyes filled with that same morose determination that he got when he had made a decision that he didn’t like. Saeyoung knew that look well. He had seen it every time V had backed down from a disagreement with Rika, allowing her reason to overtake his own. He had seen the same look every time they had talked about the agency, making the plans that were unfolding tonight. It would be the last thing he ever saw on his friend’s face.
“Don’t fight them. Remember what you’re doing it for.” V’s voice was harsh, his words crisp, and Saeyoung hated it.
He was thrown into the car, the door slammed as he crashed into the seat. He sat up, rushing to the edge, but there were no handles on the inside. All he could do was press his fingers against the glass, looking at V as the tears that he had been trying to suppress finally started rolling down his cheeks. V didn’t move, a statue, shimmering behind the layer of glass as the two agents got in the front of the car and switched on the engine. Saeyoung held his gaze, keeping his eyes locked on his friend’s as the wheels whirred into motion and started carrying him away. He hadn’t said goodbye. Not to Saeran, not to Rika, not even to V. He hadn’t gotten to say goodbye.
I don ’t want to go.
The car turned a corner, and V disappeared. Saeyoung kept his forehead pressed against the glass, his face turned so that they wouldn’t see his tears. He closed his eyes, his mind immediately conjuring the image of Saeran, tucked in the bed they had shared since they were little. Now it would just be Saeran’s bed, until V and Rika saved him.
That was what he had done this for. He couldn’t be a happy family with them, but Saeran could. Saeran could take his place, take the life in the church that he had almost had. He could take the smiles and the joy, the prayers that made the world seem brighter. Rika would show him the way, and V would keep him on the right path. Saeyoung would find a different life. It might not be perfect, but he could still make the best of it, because whatever happened to him now didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because it was worth it. Saeran was worth it, and he would always be worth it.
He just…he wished that he had said goodbye.